Surface tension

Day 26 - Utila

Tanks were parked along the dock, we were about to invade a land that was not ours. A crash course in theory left disjointed terms floating around our head - regulators, pressure groups, equalisation, first stage, second stage, beans, rice, fish. The aquatic life below, I imagine, surveyed these nervous, rubberised humans with weary familiarity. We were being thrown in at the shallow end but fears were nonetheless for it. Certainly strapping on 14 pounds of iron before swimming would seem counterintuitive at the least. Fins on feet I staggered to the edge like a drunken clown. Below, the sea, above, the sky, the thin sliver in between where we live our lives. Perhaps I dramatise but, with the intonation 'continuous breathing so your lungs don't explode' ringing in my soon-to-be squeezed ears, mistakes would be costly. At least there is a slight affinity with the water in my person, my amigo had no such love. From anti-aqua to nascent snorkeler and now wannabe scuba diver in only a matter of weeks is certainly not taking (water) baby steps. His would be the most challenging of journeys, goading those most compelling of fears - the ones we cannot entirely rationalise.
As the cool liquid enveloped, a kick brought me to the surface and, tapping my head to signal 'ok' I congratulated myself on mastering the first skill of falling into the water. Jim bobbed to my left, Tony to my right and ahead Team Japan, a pair of affable orientals whose names I, shamefully, never got. This was our first confined water, the deep blue sea lay beyond the dock end but for now we were limited to what and where we could stand. The first task en agua was strapping into our buoyancy control device and air cylinder, easy on land, like wrestling a beach ball off it. Sinking to the bottom, we knelt muted each person no doubt wanting to scream and shout, enthuse and decry this wholly new experience. Only our eyes and the simplest of gestures could communicate our wonder and wariness. Barely time to acclimatise to our underwater existence did pass before Arjen, our instructor, had us removing masks and spitting out breathing apparatus, necessary exposure of sense-shocking rudeness. We rose and fell in the water like apples at Halloween, our buoyancy control in its primordacy. Weightlessness in water was replaced by leaden struggle as we hauled ourselves out. It had been a first step into the clear, blue unknown and while feelings were mixed there was unanimous agreement that the beer never tasted better. Indeed, as we discovered, drinking and diving are inextricably linked, at least we were plenty experienced in one of the two.
The sociability of the diving world is widely noted and nobody looked upon these newbies with anything but encouragement and perhaps fond remembrance of their own certification tens or even hundreds of dives ago. Hierarchy existed, Dive Masters afforded a far greater status than open water novices but all was informal and egos did not widely abound. Persuading someone of the joy of it all, wanting them to see as you have, feel as you do may not be altruism but it's an honest service to the welfare of others. Would that we could all gasp in wonder at a world inverted.

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